Monthly Archives: July 2020

Martha Revisited

We listen to scholars who study the bible. How about artists too? Here’s  the 13th century Tuscan artist, Giovanni di Milano, looking into Luke’s gospel about  Jesus with Martha and Mary at Bethany.

The artist adds some delightful details of his own to Luke’s account. He’s let his imagination roam. The table’s set for four people. That would be Jesus, Lazarus, Mary and Martha.

But, who are those others coming in the door?  Obviously, they’re Jesus’ disciples, led by Peter. One of them gestures towards Peter, as if saying, “He told us to come.”

Poor Martha in her apron holds up her hands, “What are we going to do?”

There will be no miracle, except the miracle of Martha’s hospitality.

More than four are going to be fed.

We need to read the gospels like this too.

Almighty ever-living God, your Son was welcomed in Martha’s house as a guest, grant, we pray, that through her intercession, serving Christ faithfully in our brothers and sisters, we may be received by you in the halls of heaven.Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Celebrating With St. Mary Magdalene

    Years ago, when I spent my first “Holy Week Retreat” at the Bishop Molloy Retreat House in Jamaica, Queens, I was especially troubled by the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps because my mother had died recently, I even found little consolation in the joy of the Easter Vigil. It had been a long, sorrowful, sleepless week and I fell into a tired, troubled sleep on that Saturday night after reading the Gospel (Jn 20: 1-2, 11-18) that is read on the feast day of St. Mary Magdalene, her experience at the tomb.

    I kept on waking from the same dream. In this dream many of us had fallen into a numb, restless slumber on the floor of the Upper Room. I was one of the women, and I was anxious about getting safely to our Lord’s tomb before daybreak so we could anoint His body. Mary Magdalene kept on waking us during the night but it was still too early.

When I finally woke up in the Retreat House room it was already day and I felt the sadness of being left behind by the others. It was only a dream, but it had felt so real, so urgent. Still half-asleep I imagined Magdalene all alone  ( without me!)  out there in the dark streets of Jerusalem going through an experience like the one described  in the first reading for the Feast:

 “On my bed at night I sought Him whom my heart loves-
  I sought Him but I did not find Him.
 I will rise then and go about the city;
 In the streets and crossings I will seek  Him whom my heart loves.
  I sought Him but I could not find Him. “
                                                                                    ( Song of Songs 3:1-2)

    I imagined her sitting within the dark, empty tomb, weeping hopelessly. In my reverie I share in her grief. It overwhelms me. Outside of the cave, the crimson dawn shines, and a voice asks: “Woman why are you weeping?” Like her, I pour out my bitter grief.  

And then, He calls me by  name. I know that Voice. It is my Beloved, my Rabbouni! It is Easter Sunday! My Lord lives and loves me! I run out and embrace Him with all my might. He hugs me right back, because He loves me so much, before He gently pushes me away and rises to His Father in joy and glory. It is going to be a wonderful day. On that last day of the retreat I would  find relief and hope. Thank you Resurrected Lord!

    Mariam of Magdala, the wonderful disciple, experienced this and so much more. She must have been rejuvenated and re-energized by this sacred experience. Her Beloved tells her, “go to my brothers and tell them.” She is sent to announce to them that Christ is risen. She is sent by Him. That is why she is called the Apostle to the Apostles.

I am so happy that Pope Francis elevated her “memorial” to a “ feast day” in the Church calendar, giving her the same level of celebration as the male apostles. I love and admire her for her courage, her faith, and her wonderful devotion to our Savior. She is such a great example to me. I imagine her in Christ, young, beautiful and strong, a role model that I share with my granddaughters. Her story makes me think of the first two paragraphs of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation to the young, CHRISTUS VIVIT:

    1. “Christ is alive! He is our hope, and in a wonderful way He brings youth to our world, and everything He touches becomes young, new, full of life. The very first words, then, that I would like to    say to every young Christian are these: Christ is alive and He wants you to be alive!
    2. “He is in you, He is with you and He never abandons you. However far you may wonder, He is always there, the Risen One. He calls you and He waits for you to return to Him and start over again. When you feel you are growing old out of sorrow, resentment or fear, doubt or failure, He will always be there to restore your strength and your hope.”

Orlando Hernandez

Praying with Mary and Ann

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Western Wall, Jerusalem

A novena preparing for the  Feast of Saints Ann and Joachim, the parents of Mary, the mother of Jesus, July 26 has begun, reminding us of the role parents and grandparents play in raising children.  A few years ago I visited the ancient ruins of the temple in Jerusalem from the time of Jesus where  Jewish women were fervently praying with their daughters before the temple’s western wall.

Ann and her daughter Mary must have prayed here too.


The picture above is a model of the temple from Jesus’ time at the Israel Museum. Tradition says Ann and Joachim were closely associated with the temple and may have lived nearby.  An ancient church honoring St. Ann stands today near the Pool of Bethesda, near the temple. There, a paralyzed man was healed by Jesus. (John 5, 1-18) That’s the church below.

st.ann basilica
Church of St. Ann, Jerusalem

A statue of Ann and her daughter Mary is in the Jerusalem church. Ann is teaching her daughter at her side.


What is she teaching her? Some statues show her teaching Mary the scriptures. I’ve seen a statue, like the one below, showing Ann teaching her the ABCs and numbers. That’s what parents and grandparents do, isn’t it? they teach children life’s basics: how to live and how to pray.

Cathedral, Tegucigalpa, Honduras

Still true today. Parents and grandparents, the next generation is at your side. Ann and Joachim pray for us; show us the way.

The Journey of the Mind: St. Bonaventure

You would expect a great theologian like St. Bonaventure (July 17) to tell you to hit the books if you would want to go to God. After all, his treatise we read on his feast is called “The Journey of the Mind to God.”

Instead he directs us to Christ and the Cross as our way to God.

” If you ask how such things can occur, seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine; in the longing of the will, not in the understanding; in the sighs of prayer, not in research; seek the bridegroom not the teacher; God and not man; darkness not daylight; and look not to the light but rather to the raging fire that carries the soul to God with intense fervour and glowing love.”

A shelf of scripture commentaries and theology books wont bring us wisdom of themselves, St. Bonaventure says in his Breviloquium, otherwise only scholars would enter the kingdom of heaven.

“The stream of holy Scripture flows not from human research but from revelation by God. It springs from the Father of lights, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth takes its name. From him, through his Son Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit flows into us; and through the Holy Spirit, giving, at will, different gifts to different people, comes the gift of faith, and through faith Jesus Christ has his dwelling in our hearts. This is the knowledge of Jesus Christ which is the ultimate basis of the solidity and wisdom of the whole of holy Scripture…

If we are to follow the direct path of Scripture and come straight to the final destination, then right from the beginning – when simple faith starts to draw us towards the light of the Father – our hearts should kneel down and ask the Father to give us, through his Son and the Holy Spirit, true knowledge of Jesus and of his love. Once we know him and love him like this, we shall be made firm in faith and deeply rooted in love, and we can know the breadth, length, depth and height of holy Scripture.”

Sounds like Gregory of Nysaa, doesn’t it?

Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680)


Kateri statue, Auresville

Sometime ago I stumbled on a map of New York rivers and lakes.  The rivers and lakes were the roads and highways used by the native peoples and early settlers centuries ago. Even today, the New York Thruway follows the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers from New York City to Buffalo.

Just north of Albany near the town of Fonda are the ruins of the17th century Mohawk village of Caughnawaga, excavated in the 1950s by a Franciscan priest,  Thomas Grassmann. In the excavated village are traces of 12 long houses surrounded by a fortified stockade which was built in 1666 after a French army from Quebec destroyed an earlier Mohawk village at Osserneron (today, Auriesville) a few miles south.


Model of Longhouses, Fonda

The French army was punishing the Mohawks for their part in the Iroquois-Huron wars, when they plundered and destroyed villages along the St. Lawrence River belonging to the Hurons and Algonquins, Indian allies of the French. The Mohawks, members of the Iroquois confederation, wanted to gain control of the fur trade from their northern neighbors.

In destroying Ossernenon, the French army was also probably avenging the deaths of Fr. Isaac Jogues, SJ, and Rene Goupil and Gabriel Lalande, three French missionaries  killed in that village some years before:  honored  today by the Church as martyrs.

In the war against their neighbors to the north, the Mohawks  took women and children captive.  At the time,  native tribes replenished  their own numbers–diminished by wars or disease– by kidnapping members from other tribes. One of the Christian Algonquin women captured in an earlier raid married a Mohawk brave from Ossernenon and they had a daughter,  Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), whom the Catholic Church  honors as a saint.

An epidemic of smallpox ravaged Ossernenon when Kateri was four years old, killing   many children and adults. The young girl almost died of the disease that left her disfigured. Her early Jesuit biographer says, “ She almost lost her eyesight, and her eyes hurt so much from this illness that she covered herself with a blanket when out in strong light.” (The Life of the Good Catherine Tekakwitha, Claude Chauchetiere, SJ , 1695)

Both parents died when Kateri was a little girl and she was taken in by relatives in the new Mohawk village of Caughnawaga, where she lived most of her life. Her mother was a devout Christian and must have told her about Christianity, but Kateri’s new family and  tribe strongly opposed the religion.

The French military, as one condition for not returning to the Mohawk villages, demanded that Jesuit missionaries be allowed to visit them and minister to captive Christians or others interested in their faith. Jesuit missionaries visited Caughnawaga for three days in 1667 and received hospitality in the long house where Kateri lived with her uncle, a Mohawk leader opposed to Christians.

According to witnesses, Kateri  was a normal Indian girl and young woman.  “She brought wood and tended the fire when her aunt ordered her, and got water when those in the long house needed it. When she had nothing to do she amused herself making small jewels and dressing as other girls of her age. She placed shell bead necklaces around her neck, shell bead bracelets on her arms, rings on her fingers and ornaments in her ears.” (The Life of the Good Catherine Tekakwitha, Claude Chauchetiere, SJ , 1695)

Though sickly, she was not lazy or proud. She never talked about others. Timid, she avoided dances and games. She didn’t like seeing captives harmed or people tortured, witnesses said.

In the spring of 1675  Jesuit Father Jacques de Lamberville visited Caughnawaga . Kateri was alone in her long house because a foot injury prevented her from working in the fields and the priest entered her lodge. She spoke to him of her desire to receive baptism and on Easter, 1676, the young Indian girl was baptized and took the name Kateri, after St. Catherine of Siena, the mystic and a favorite patron of Christian Indian women. She was 20 years old.

Her uncle and relatives in the long house opposed her conversion to Christianity and pressured her to marry and follow their ways, though against  her beliefs. The early Jesuits considered it a miracle for a Christian to resist family and tribal pressure such as Kateri experienced in Caughnawaga. Yet, her early biographer says “She practiced her faith without losing her original fervor and her extraordinary virtue was seen by all. The Christians saw her obeying their rules exactly, going to prayers every day in the morning and evening and Mass on Sunday. At the same time she avoided the dreams feasts and the dances,” practices endangering her belief.  (The Life of the Good Catherine Tekakwitha, Claude Chauchetiere, SJ , 1695)

Father de Lamberville finally recommended that Kateri escape to the newly-established  Indian Christian village in Kahnawake near Montreal, where she could live her faith more easily. In 1676, aided by other Christian Indians, she made the dangerous journey northward.  There she lived a fervent life of prayer and faith;  she died and was buried on April 17th, 1680.


Early Painting of Kateri, Fonda

She was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 21, 2012, Her feast day is July 14.

Rich Soil


 The Gospel (Mat 13: 1-23)  for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time can be reflected upon in so many ways. There is always something new that a seeker can find in it, if it is the Will of the Sower.    

 We have a small space behind our house. Almost half of it was covered by these tall evergreen bushes that took up so much room. Finally, we convinced ourselves to have them cut. It really hurt. What was left behind looked like part of an abandoned lot, a wasteland, horrible. During this spring of confinement, my wife and I decided to come up with some sort of garden in this backyard. We tried to help the English ivy to come back and cover some of the space. We placed in the middle a bunch of little flowering plants from the grocery store. It was an improvement, but oh, what back-breaking work! There were few rocks there, but these stumps and thick roots made it almost impossible to plant anything new. And the weeds! Some were painfully thorny and hard to remove. The others would spring right back, and in three days they were once more choking the ivy and attacking the flowers. Boy, was it frustrating.   

 Time and again, this situation would remind me of Jesus’ parable of the sower. Farming, and even gardening, are about so much more than just planting. Making that soil receptive is such a challenge. Suddenly, this experience and this parable made me think about the “most important thing” we do as Christians, which is to pray. Our Lord is constantly inviting us to be with Him in prayer. When you believe in Him, His promptings, what St. Paul of the Cross calls “love darts,” fall upon the soil of our hearts like gentle dew, sacred “manna”, seeds that can germinate into the most wondrous moments of intimacy with the Word of God. 

   However, we have all these impediments: “No, no, I don’t have the time. Gotta do this, gotta do that!” And when we finally find the time, all these weeds and stones get in the way: body aches, itchiness, sleepiness, noisy lawn mowers, some young person blasting “ Raggeton”  rap from his car parked out front, and so on. Then, when there is relative comfort and silence outside, there is the noise inside, what Fr. Ignacio Larrañaga calls “this mass of unruly thoughts” choking up our concentration on our God. Then, sometimes, there is that sense of guilt, that sense of unworthiness. It is so easy to just give up, stand up, and walk away from that moment of prayer that just a few moments before we were craving so much.   

 Fortunately, we must not forget Who is the One that longs the most for that encounter. He is the One that gently, somehow, clears our eyes and ears of faith so we can “see and hear.” The ruined, weed-covered yard turns into a fruitful garden, an image of that original Garden of intimacy with the Beloved. He helps us to remove the stumps, the weeds, the thorns, to turn the hard earth. He works with us to create that fruitful place, a soul that longs each day to be more and more like Him. Then we can begin to try, and carry out our Christian mission.

As my friend Matthew, who leads our virtual meetings, says : “Without prayer you can’t do anything.”      Every once in a while I would like to share my favorite prayers with you, dear readers.  These “prayers” are actually promptings, from the writings of very holy people who have helped me to clear out those weeds and be with God.     Enjoy this challenging summer as best as you can, with the help of our God. I hope you appreciate and smell the flowers.  Pray, pray, pray!
Orlando Hernández

Mother of Holy Hope

The Passionists have always honored Mary, the Mother of Jesus, under the title of Mother of Holy. It was a devotion promoted in a special way by the great missionary, Father Thomas Struzzieri, who later became a bishop. He carried a picture of our Mother of Holy Hope with him on missions. This picture was reproduced in the community as a reminder of Mary’s assistance in our spiritual needs.

 The Blessed Virgin is a model and support of our hope. She remains so. Her feast is celebrated by the community on July 9th.

 “One title that belongs rightly to Mary is that of Mother of Holy Hope.  Hope is that virtue that anchors the ship of our soul in the stormy sea of this troubled world. It is a comfort left to us after the fall of Adam, a support in our weakness encouraging us to practice all the virtues.

 Theologians say hope is a virtue planted in us by God enabling us to confidently expect eternal life and all that leads to it. Since Mary was hopeful to an heroic degree, she is appropriately called Mother of Holy Hope.

Though endowed with extraordinary graces and unstained by original sin, Mary never counted on any resource of her own. Rather, she knew God is the author of every good thing and the source of everything. She confided in God fleeing from persecution from her own country. She hoped in God even when she saw her divine Son die on cross and his disciples left him.

She stayed firm in what seemed like disaster, and strengthened those discouraged who turned to her as to a mother. She encouraged the weak, lifted up the fallen and urged the strong to ever greater trust.

We must not think Mary is not our mother now.  No! Even now, enthroned in glory, she reaches with a mother’s hand to those who go to her. She is always a mother of holy hope.”

Blessed Dominic Barberi. CP

Lord God,

you have given us the Blessed Virgin Mary as mother of our hope.

Under her protection,

may we pass through this uncertain world with our hopes fixed on heaven

and so enter into your kingdom.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.